So the Dale just got back from a class about the legislation and ethical guidelines of clinical trials in psychology. Stupidly boring lecture, but there is one thing that struck me about the profession I have chosen to pursue. We are our own worst enemy.
While my poor lecturer sifted through more than half a century of administrative red tape and attempted to cram it into a two and a half hour lecture, it must have dawned on him how goddamn boring and useless this lecture was likely to be to us students. But he was wrong. I came to the very important realization, as a result of his academic rambling, that the legislation and ethical guidelines associated with carrying out psychological experiments on people is the very reason we don’t know more about how our minds work.
You have millions of individuals across the world that have dedicated their professional lives to researching the human mind in an attempt to find solutions to illnesses such as Alzheimers. Then you have a whole different body of people who have dedicated their professional lives to bottlenecking this procedure by way of rules and regulations. And here’s the kicker…both bodies maintain the same goal. To improve the wellbeing of our society.
So how can these two clash heads on a professional basis yet be in moral harmony? The Dale believes the rift has it’s roots in the uncertainty of what exactly is “best for the people”. Do we give psychologists a golden ticket to do whatever is experimentally necessary to learn more, resulting in potential long term gain? Or do we address human rights over and above anything else, “saving” people from being deceived in a deception trial or placebo’d in a placebo trial?
The latter example is what made me write this post in the first place. A placebo trial, for those that don’t already know, is when one group (the experimental group) takes a drug, while the other group (the control group) takes a sugar pill or some other sort of “drugless” alternative, then the effects are recorded for both groups and compared. Of course, if a drug has a real effect, it will be seen in the experimental group but not the control. This type of study is monumental in understanding the positive and negative aspects of new drugs. But no. Apparently, giving someone a goddamn sugar pill and telling them it is a drug is apparently considered inhumane. The Declaration of Helsinki written up in 1999, is basically a document stating how evil placebo trials are, and how deceptive it is to tell someone you are giving them something and give them something else. Even if that something else is DESIGNED TO DO NOTHING. So because of ridiculous “Declarations” like this one, rules are put into place which essentially ruin the whole concept behind an experiment. Now, if you want to run a placebo trial, as a psychologist, you must tell each participant, no matter which group, that there is a chance of them getting a sugar pill instead of the drug. This effectively ruins the whole concept of a placebo trial and leads to data that is likely damaged as a result of participants knowing essential information that they would not be privy to in a pure, unadulterated trial.
So. How the hell do you get around this dilemma? You obviously can’t give psychologists free reign to do what they please, as we would end up with generations of horribly disfigured frankenstein children with mental capacities equal to that of a dry roasted peanut who feel the urge to murder rape and pillage on a regular basis. But if we continue to let governing bodies come up with stupid shit like the Declaration of Helsinki, psychologists cannot do their job. Plain and simple.
The dale suggests that an international psychologocial association might be a step in the right direction, as they could make decisions based on the good of the international field, rather than having little clans of psychologists from different countries trying to one up each other. Also, leniency NEEDS to be applied to trials like a placebo trial. Consequences must be considered in depth in order to deem something unacceptable. I could write about this for hours, and I’m really trying my best to give you a summary of what I want to say, but if you read the Dale on a reg. bas. then you know that I ramble more than a preacher with Tourrette’s. Anyway. things that can’t kill or seriously injure someone (like a placebo) should not need to be disclosed. Proposals should be easier to pass and leniency should be granted in favour of the psychologist rather than the participant. Basically the potential benefit of the experiment should be compared to the actual harm done to the participant, and this is how ethical and legislative decisions should be made. If giving a bunch of people a sugar pill in order to prove that a new cancer drug is effective in instantaneously curing cancer, then no one, including those nosy Finnish fucks should intervene.